The first Vice President and second President of the United States, John Adams was the first President to live in the White House, then known as the Executive Mansion.
John Adams (October 30, 1735 – July 4, 1826) was an American statesman who served as the second President of the United States (1797—1801) and the first Vice President (1789–97). He was a lawyer, diplomat, statesman, political theorist, and, as a Founding Father, a leader of the movement for American independence from Great Britain.
At age 16, Adams earned a scholarship to attend Harvard University. After graduating in 1755, at age 20, Adams studied law in the office of James Putnam, a prominent lawyer, despite his father’s wish for him to enter the ministry. In 1758, he earned a master’s degree from Harvard and was admitted to the bar.
In 1764, he married Abigail Smith (1744-1818), a minister’s daughter from Weymouth, Massachusetts, with whom he went on to have six children. Abigail Adams would prove to be her husband’s trusted confidant. Well-read and possessed of her own intellectual gifts, she corresponded regularly with Adams, especially when he was away in Europe for long periods of time. Surviving letters show her to be a pragmatic thinker and influential in her husband’s career.
Adams drafted the Massachusetts Constitution, which was approved by voters in 1780 and is still in effect today. The document’s structure of chapters, sections and articles served as a model for the United States Constitution.
Adams was a hopeless romantic: “I am with all the ardour of youth yours,” he wrote to Abigail in 1793 (he was 58).
Since Adams and Abigail were so often living separately (he in Philadelphia and she in Massachusetts—a true 18th century long distance relationship), there are scores of love letters between them that remain in existence.
“I am warm enough at night, but cannot sleep since I left you.” (1793)
“I can do nothing without you.” (1776)
They called each other “dearest friend” in their letters, or, when he wasn’t in a hurry, “best, dearest, worthiest, wisest friend in the world.”
In 1770, Adams agreed to represent the British soldiers on trial for killing five civilians in what became known as the Boston Massacre.The jury acquitted six of the eight soldiers, while two were convicted of manslaughter. Reaction to Adams’ defence of the soldiers was hostile, and his law practice suffered greatly. However, his actions later enhanced his reputation as a courageous, generous and fair man.
In 1774, Adams attended the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia as a Massachusetts delegate. (The Continental Congress served as the government of the 13 American colonies and later the United States, from 1774 to 1789.) In 1775, as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress, Adams nominated George Washington (1732-1799) to serve as commander of the colonial forces in the American Revolutionary War (1775-83), which had just begun. As a congressional delegate, Adams would later nominate Thomas Jefferson to draft the Declaration of Independence.
Years after becoming Vice President, Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail, ”My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man.”
President Adams was the principal author of the oldest written constitution still in use in the world. He drafted the Massachusetts Constitution, which was approved by voters in 1780 and is still in effect today. The document’s structure of chapters, sections and articles served as a model for the United States Constitution, and its Declaration of Rights itemised individual liberties such as freedom of the press and freedom of worship that were later enshrined in the Federal Bill of Rights.
The election of 1796 was the first contested American presidential election. Like the previous two presidential elections, no candidates were put forward for voters to choose between in 1796. The Constitution provided for the selection of electors who would then elect a president. Adams was elected as the Federalist nominee for president. Thomas Jefferson led the opposition for the Democratic-Republican Party. Adams won the election by a narrow margin, becoming the second President of the United States while Jefferson became Vice President. This is the only election to date in which a president and vice president were elected from opposing tickets.
None of Adams’ family members were present for his inauguration.
Of the first five American presidents, Adams was the only non-slaveholder. His predecessor, George Washington, owned over 300 slaves at the time of his death.
‘English is destined to be in the next and succeeding centuries more generally the language of the world than Latin was in the last or French is in the present age.’- John Adams (1735-1826), 2nd President of the United States (1797-1801).
He was the only non-Virginian of the first five presidents. He was from Braintree, Massachusetts, which is now named Quincy, after his son.
He was the first president to live in the White House. When President Adams arrived in Washington, D.C., from Philadelphia on June 3, 1800, the new national capital very much remained an active construction zone. The President’s House, later known as the White House, remained far from completion, so Adams was forced to reside in temporary quarters at Tunnicliffe’s City Hotel. When the President finally moved into the White House on November 1, 1800, the mansion still reeked of wet plaster and paint fumes. Fireplaces roared in every room to combat the cold and dampness, and the First Lady used the unplastered East Room to hang the presidential laundry. Defeated in the 1800 election, Adams lived in the White House for barely more than four months.
Until the presidential election of 2000, Adams and his son, John Quincy Adams, were the only father and son who both became president. He lived to see him elected the 6th president of the United States in 1824.
He wanted the president to be addressed as “His Highness.” The debate on how to properly address George Washington consumed Congress in the weeks after his 1789 inauguration. Adams, who presided over the Senate as the vice president, felt the office required a grand title to convey power on par with the royal courts of Europe. He scoffed that fire companies and cricket clubs had mere “presidents” and that Washington should be called “His Majesty the President” or “His Highness, the President of the United States of America, and Protector of the Rights of the Same.” To many Americans who had just rid themselves of a monarch, the titles were too royal, and Congress agreed that Washington’s title should simply be “The President of the United States.” Opponents of the plump Adams seized on his titular suggestions to mock him as “His Rotundity.”
As President, he refused protection outside his house for over a year. He eventually agreed to have a guard outside his house in response to a spate of violence between gang members in Philadelphia.
He lived to be exceptionally old. He was 90 years old when he died. John Adams lived long enough to see his son John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) become America’s sixth president in 1825.
He is one of only 10 presidents to serve a single term. He lost his re-election bid to Jefferson in 1800.
No single monument is named after him in the nation’s capital, Washington D.C.
He and his Vice President were rivals but they later became friends. They also died on the same day—the only time in American history. They both died on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Adams’ last words were “Thomas Jefferson survives.” However, Jefferson had died at Monticello a few hours earlier.
Ayomide Akinbode holds a degree in Chemistry but has a passion for History and Classics. When he is not writing, he’s either sleeping or playing Scrabble.